My Fair, Lady: Baking as Bloodsport (Part II)

This is the second part of last week’s post.  Read Part I here.

Fresh off our wins at the North Georgia State Fair, in early October, Paul and I put together our battle plan for the Georgia National Fair (GNF).  GNF is a large agricultural fair in Perry, GA.  In addition to livestock and 4-H competitions, GNF also has several culinary competitions.  Within the culinary competitions, there were 10 divisions, or categories of baked goods, such as cakes, cookies, and yeast breads.  Within the divisions, there were 70 different classes of entries, such as pound, chocolate layer, and carrot cakes within the cake division.

Based on our strengths, Paul and I each chose our classes in which we would enter goodies.  When all was said and done, we entered a total of 35 baked goods, 10 from Paul and the remaining 25 from me.  Because we don’t compete against each other, all 35 entries were from different classes.  Now, I’m not going to lie—making 25 entries is a massive endeavor.  Granted, only about 20 of my entries were baked—I entered about six candies.

To prepare, all of the dry ingredients were measured out the night before baking.  Measuring out ingredients (by weight, as we do) takes a lot of time and taking the time to measure out the dry goods beforehand made mixing very efficient.

Our mega mise en place.

The way GNF works is that most baked goods are brought to the fair for judging in the evening.  The next morning when the fair opens, the entries are judged.  This means a couple of things.  It is important that our entries (1) travel well, because the fair is about 2 hours away from our home, (2) will keep reasonably fresh over a period of several hours, and (3) do not require refrigeration.  This can be a tricky undertaking, as some classes include things such as biscuits which, while they do not require refrigeration, usually are best eaten right after they come out of the oven.  Items such as these are usually baked later in the day, so they are at their freshest.  Of course, a biscuit kept at room temperature overnight will not be nearly as good as one hot from the oven, but all of the biscuit entries are due at the same time and are kept in the same condition for judging.

To give you a sense of our process, we began two days before the fair entries were due.  On that day, the ingredients were all measured out and some cookie doughs were mixed up.  I’ve found that most cookie doughs will keep well unbaked in the refrigerator for a few days.

The day before the entries were due, we took off work and baked and baked and baked.  And baked.  Cake layers and cookies were baked, and some things that keep well were baked, cooled, and wrapped to preserve freshness.  It was a 16-hour day with both ovens going full throttle all day long.  Once one item went into the oven, the next item was mixed to be ready when the other one comes out of the oven.

Wrapped well, cake layers will keep overnight at room temperature.

The day of the fair delivery, baking time is limited.  This is the time that breads are baked to ensure maximum freshness, and cakes are frosted.  All items need to be placed on the plates for display at the fair and then packed for travel.  Despite the time limitations, I did snap some photos of the goods before they were wrapped and boxed.

Oatmeal cookies

Chocolate cookies

Owl-themed refrigerator cookies

Paul’s delicious biscuits

Fruit muffins

Peanut brittle

These dinner rolls earned an Award of Excellence and named the Best Yeast Bread overall in the adult baking category.

Chocolate fudge

German chocolate cake

Whole wheat bread

Pumpkin decorated cookies

For travel, some of the goods were boxed to prevent squishing during transport.

Packed up and ready for transport. Boxes were labeled so we could easily find the entries once we arrived at the fair.

So, how did we do?  Not too shabby, actually.  For 35 entries, we earned 29 total awards, including awards of excellence for best cake, candy, and yeast bread.

The awards from the 2012 GNF are in the lower right-hand corner. Last year’s GNF ribbons are in the upper-left.  The purple rosette ribbons are the awards of excellence award for best-of-division entries.

In addition to the ribbons, my hard work was also rewarded by earning the Cindy Nobles Culinary Sweepstakes Memorial Award.  This award is given to the baker who earned the most blue ribbons in the culinary division.  I earned a total of 7 blue ribbons, and I received a plaque and a special sponsor ribbon.

We had such a great time at the fair this year.  While competing can be physically exhausting, I do find the competition to be a novel experience that I enjoy.  While judges’ tastes and judging criteria can vary, it’s very rewarding to have your hard-worked recognized in a public forum.  I don’t share this here to boast (much!), but to also help dispel the stereotype that county fair competitors are blue-haired ladies.  We’re not old, and we’re not ladies—and we win.  Big.

Happy Baking!

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2 Responses

  1. Awesome, Chris! That German Chocolate cake and those buscuits look amazing. They’re low-carb, right?

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